15 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park, located in Southern California, is one of the most unique national parks in the US and is a must-visit desert destination. Within Joshua Tree National Park you will find fields of unique Joshua Trees, gorgeous and huge rock formations, an amazing night sky, and all the desert views you could ask for.
Based on my three visits to the park (one of them for an awesome bouldering weekend in Joshua Tree and one for an amazing trip to Joshua Tree with kids ) I have compiled the perfect list of all the things you need to know before visiting Joshua Tree National Park for the first time.
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1. The best times to visit Joshua Tree National Park are in the spring and fall
One of the best things you need to know before visiting Joshua Tree National Park is when to visit. The best and most popular months to visit Joshua Tree National Park are March-May and October/November. This is because the park can get hot (and I mean hot). In the summer months, temperatures can reach over 100° F with an extremely dry, desert heat and very little shade to escape to. In the winter months, temperatures range in the 50s and 60s° F but can dip to freezing during the night.
We went camping and bouldering in Joshua Tree National Park in May and can attest to the crazy hot temperatures. It wasn’t even full-blown summer yet and we still felt like we were dying of heat 😅. We kept a huge gallon of water with us at all times and occasionally took breaks from bouldering to escape to our car to soak in some cold AC.
However, we have also visited Joshua Tree in November and had a very different experience. During the day the weather was very mild and I wore leggings and a light jacket and was able to take the jacket off while hiking. But during the night, temperatures dropped below freezing and camping was much less pleasant than it was during our May visit.
For our next trip, we will aim to visit in March, April or October. I think these months have the highest likelihood of more moderate daytime and nighttime temps.
2. Joshua Tree National Park is located basically in the middle of nowhere
Joshua Tree National Park is located in Southern California right between the California coast and the Arizona border. The park is comprised of both the Mojave and the Colorado Deserts and the closest big city is about two hours away. However, right outside the park you will find three small towns (Joshua Tree, Twentynine Palms and Yucca Valley) and there are plenty of other small towns around as well.
This being said, there will definitely be times when you are making the drive to Joshua Tree, California that you aren’t quite so sure you are headed the right direction. But just remember that you most likely are, there’s just a lot of desert you have to drive through before you get to the part of the desert you’re looking for 😉.
3. You can choose to fly into one of multiple different airports then drive to Joshua Tree, California
One nice thing about Joshua Tree being in the middle of nowhere, Southern California is that there is one international airport just 45 minutes from Joshua Tree plus five additional international airports all within a 2-3 hour drive.
I would recommend searching for flights to each of those six airports to see where the cheapest flights are. Depending on the city you are flying from, you may be able to find some good fares into Palm Springs.
Or, you can also choose your airport based on an additional place you want to explore. For example, you could land at the Los Angeles or Hollywood airport and explore some of LA’s best beaches and the best hikes in LA before continuing your trip to Joshua Tree National Park.
The closest airport to Joshua Tree (just a 45-minute drive away):
- Palm Springs International Airport
Here are five additional airports all within a 2-3 hour drive of Joshua Tree National Park:
- John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana
- Los Angeles Airport
- Hollywood Burbank Airport
- San Diego Airport
- Las Vegas Nevada Airport
4. Cell service can be spotty
Both within the park outside of Joshua Tree National Park, cell service/data reception can be spotty. I recommend buying a paper map of the area or download your Google Maps in case you end up needing it. It’s definitely better to be safe than sorry.
Obviously, for safety reasons, it’s always good to have a backup map that is not your phone, plus a little reassurance from a map can be very nice to have when you feel like you might be headed in the wrong direction. While you’re at it, also make sure you have a car charger or a portable charger for your phone in case you run low on battery.
check this out: 7 Things to Know Before Bouldering In Joshua Tree National Park
5. Camping is not the only lodging option available
While (in my opinion) camping is one of the best lodging options to experience Joshua Tree National Park, it is not the only lodging option. Just outside of the park, you will find some of the most unique Airbnbs in all of California. A simple search on Airbnb will show you unique homes with hot tubs to enjoy stargazing during the cooler months and eccentric homes with swimming pools for an afternoon dip in the hotter months. Or if you are looking for a blend between camping and home, you can also find many gorgeous glampsites on Airbnb (like camping but with a comfortable bed and more amenities).
Along with unique Airbnbs and glampsites, you will also find traditional hotels just outside of the park. On one of our Joshua Tree trips, some of us stayed in a campground while the rest of the family stayed at this nice hotel (with complimentary breakfast) just outside the park in Twentynine Palms. No matter your travel style, you’ll be able to find something right for you.
6. Some park campsites are first-come-first-serve while others accept reservations
I’ve had too many experiences driving around late into the night searching for a campsite, getting frustrated, and ending up overpaying for a night at a hotel or RV Park. So now, whenever I go camping, I like to stay at campgrounds that allow reservations instead of first-come-first-served campgrounds.
Joshua Tree National Park is home to eight campgrounds totaling almost 500 campsites. Five of those campgrounds require reservations and three of the campgrounds are first-come-first-served. You can make reservations up to six months in advance, and it is highly recommended if you are planning to camp on a holiday, a weekend, or anytime in the spring.
We stayed at Jumbo Rocks Campground on our bouldering trip to Joshua Tree and it was absolutely dreamy. Jumbo Rocks is a perfectly situated campground with amazing rock views. You just can’t beat waking up to the sun rising over the huge rock formations and going out to scamper among the rocks before you start your day.
I recommend looking at the Jumbo Rocks Campground map before you reserve your site to pick a spot right along the large boulders within the park. However, if no spots are available along the boulders, you will still have amazing views no matter where your site is.
7. Fill up on gas before you enter the park
Like most national parks, there are no gas stations within Joshua Tree National Park. You could potentially be driving for 2-3 hours (or more) within the park depending on where you plan on visiting. On one of our visits, we had one more stopped planned before heading out of the park for the day but we had to skip it because we didn’t have enough gas to get to our last stop and back to a gas station. Learn from our mistake and fill up in Joshua Tree, Twentynine Palms or Yucca Valley before heading into the park.
8. Very little water is available within the Joshua Tree National Park
Within Joshua Tree National Park you will find it very difficult to find potable water, therefore, park rangers recommend you bring all the water you will need into the park with you. It is recommended to drink at least one gallon of water per-day, per-person and even more if you will be participating in a lot of strenuous activities.
We brought multiple one-gallon plastic jugs filled with water we bought from the grocery store before we went to Joshua Tree and we used those to fill up our smaller water bottles that we kept on us. Or you could bring along a cooler like this filled with water to not waste so much plastic. Just be sure to have more water than you think you’ll need because the desert can be very unforgiving and you want to make sure you have plenty of water with you.
You will find potable water at the following locations but they are located along the edge of the park (so it’s almost like you’d be leaving the park to get water anyways):
- the Oasis Visitor Center in Twentynine Palms
- the West Entrance station
- Black Rock Campground
- Cottonwood Campground
- Indian Cove Ranger Station
9. Rangers recommend against many hikes in the hot summer months
You’ll find almost 300 miles of trails within Joshua Tree National Park, however, not many of those trails are recommended during the hot summer months. As I said before, temperatures in Joshua Tree reach over 100° F in the summer and there is next to no shade making summer and hot days a pretty dangerous environment for strenuous activities.
You can find all of the hiking trails within the park here. You will see that in the hot summer months (and on hot days) only the short walks and nature trails are recommended and it is suggested to begin those hikes before 9 am. If you are looking to get a lot of hiking in (which I recommend at least doing some hiking within the park), you will definitely want to visit in the spring or the fall. For suggestions on some of the best hikes within the park, check out my Ultimate Guide to Joshua Tree National Park.
10. Joshua Tree National Park is a mecca for climbers and boulderers
Joshua Tree National Park boasts more than 8,000 climbing routes and 2,000 boulder problems making it a bucket list location for rock climbers and boulderers from around the world. To really have a unique experience within the park, be sure to participate in bouldering or rock climbing.
We spent a day bouldering in Joshua Tree and it was such a unique and memorable experience. From that experience, I compiled the Ultimate Joshua Tree Bouldering Guide to help you prepare for your first time bouldering in Joshua Tree.
If you have never climbed or bouldered before, I definitely recommend booking one of the many amazing climbing tours that operate within the park. You can choose from a half-day climbing excursion, a full-day climbing excursion, rappelling, and even climbing excursions for families. Book one of these excursions and you will be able to stay safe and still have an amazing experience!
11. The towns just outside Joshua Tree National Park have fun things to see and good places to eat
Right outside of Joshua Tree National Park you will find three small towns called Joshua Tree, Twentynine Palms and Yucca Valley. These towns all kind of blend together (especially Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms) but are all very close to the park’s entrance.
You will find fun shops, yummy places to eat and unique art installations in these towns. I definitely recommend swinging by Natural Sisters Cafe for a healthy breakfast or lunch and visiting the Joshua Tree Farmer’s Market that takes place every Saturday morning.
My Ultimate Guide to Joshua Tree National Park covers even more of the quirky places to see and yummy places to eat in the area.
related post: 6 of the Best Hiking Trails in Los Angeles
12. Dogs are only allowed in specific areas within the park
Like many national parks, dogs are only allowed in limited areas of the park. However, they are allowed within all the campgrounds and picnic sites, the two paved trails of Oasis of Mara and Keys View Trail (a great sunset spot), and on all of the unpaved roads within the park. You can find more information about pets in Joshua Tree here.
We really enjoy camping with our dog and brought him along with us on one of our camping trips. He stayed in Jumbo Rocks Campground with us and then in the morning when we were ready to explore for the day, we went and dropped him off just outside the park for doggie daycare at someone’s home then we picked him up when we were headed back to camp that night.
When we are traveling, we really like to use the dogsitting service Rover. It’s like an Airbnb for dogs and we totally love it. If you have a dog and you haven’t heard of Rover, you really need to check it out!
13. Many great day trip options exist from Joshua Tree National Park
Depending on how far you are willing to drive for a day trip, you have lots of great day trip options from Joshua Tree National Park! Or rather, you could use these day trip options as a home base and make Joshua Tree your day trip if that’s what you’d like.
The closest day trips to Joshua Tree National Park are Salvation Mountain, The Salton Sea and Palm Springs. Salvation Mountain is an eclectic, man-made 50-foot high mountain covered in paint with messages of Jesus and love. It’s definitely one of the most Instagrammable places in the area!
Nearby Salvation Mountain you will find the Salton Sea where you can explore Bombay Beach to see remnants of a bustling resort town from the 1950s. Palm Springs is a unique city just 50 minutes from Joshua Tree known for its amazing mid-century modern homes, stylish hotels, boutique shops, and natural hot springs.
If you are up for a bit of a longer drive (2-3 hours) head to Los Angeles to visit some of the LA’s most iconic beaches or soak up the amazing views of LA on one of these best hikes in Los Angeles. Or other day trip options are to enjoy the relaxed surfer atmosphere of San Diego’s beaches or visit a slot canyon at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
check this out: 14 Best Southern California Beaches
14. Joshua Tree National Park is a certified International Dark Sky Park
Joshua Tree National Park is a certified International Dark Sky Park meaning it possesses an exceptionally starry sky and they are dedicated to protecting that. Because of the park’s remote location and distance from heavy light pollution, the amount of stars you can see within the park is absolutely amazing. This means you will definitely want to set aside some time to be in or near the park at night to enjoy the beautiful stargazing you can’t enjoy many places.
Or you can attend Joshua Tree’s annual Night Sky Festival to experience activities both day and night for the whole family. You can look through telescopes at the night sky while being taught by expert astronomers about the spectacular views you are seeing. It’s definitely one of the most unique experiences within Joshua Tree National Park!
15. Many interesting local-led tours and experiences are available in Joshua Tree
One of the best things to know before visiting Joshua Tree National park is that you can find many unique adventures and activities led by Joshua Tree locals.
You can find rock climbing excursions, tranquil guided meditation + sound baths in the desert, adventurous Jeeping tours, and custom-made guided hikes! Choosing one of these local-led experiences is definitely a great way to experience Joshua Tree National park and the surrounding areas.
And those are the 15 things you need to know before visiting Joshua Tree National Park! Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!
Check out these other posts, I know you’ll love them:
- The Ultimate Guide to Joshua Tree National Park and Nearby Towns
- 12 Gorgeous Joshua Tree Hikes You Need to Take (From Easy to Difficult)
- The Ultimate Guide to Joshua Tree with Kids: Things to do + Top Tips
- 7 Things to Know Before Bouldering In Joshua Tree National Park
- Arch Rock in Joshua Tree With Easy Detour to Heart Rock